No social fairness for Irish entrepreneurs

Two months ago I received redundancy after having worked for one of the world’s largest multinational IT companies for 11 years. I did not receive the news with any particular sadness or worries as I had already thought of the future: in 2011 I had setup a company which I had been working on in my spare time. To ensure everything was about board I did something that a few micro-companies neglect to do in their early days: registered with the Company Registration Office and duly filed tax returns every year. We had no profit as any money made was reinvested straight back into expenses needed to grow the business.

This was the status at the time of my redundancy: I had an interesting nascent business which I could now finally devote 100% of my time to. With my settlement I calculated my family and I would have enough for me to work on the project for 6 months before seeking additional income. Also, I expected to add to this: I had dutifully been paying my PRSI (Pay Related Social Insurance) for almost 11.5 years — contributing tens of thousands to the Irish State not to mention tax. So — on the surface — as a productive citizen with a plan to build a new business (officially fully in line with what the Irish Government wants to achieve), I expected to qualify Job Seekers Benefit.

This hope was immediately dashed as the Irish legislation considers everyone with a registered company ‘self-employed’ and thus not technically ‘unemployed’. The law is not designed flexibly enough to accommodate situations where people have already ‘lined up a future’ by being proactive. A clear hindrance to creating more domestic businesses which Ireland desperately needs to lower the country’s dependence on foreign multinationals who will one day pack up and leave. This could easily be solved simply by considering anyone owning a business that makes under a certain amount of profit as technically unemployed.

Having feared this outcome, I looked into the Short-Term Enterprise Allowance Scheme (STEA) — a scheme created to assist an unemployed person with starting a new business rather than seeking new employment. This is a great programme except for one proviso: it punishes those proactive enough to have made a head-start. After the initial consultation I was told that since my company had already started in 2011 it could not be considered under this scheme. Once again legislation with inadequate flexibility.

I am lucky in a sense — I have confidence in myself and know I will make it with or without help from the state. But as one of the many so-called middle-class citizens who have contributed much to the Irish society while at the same time asking for very little, it feels aggravating to be denied anything that would help from a social insurance fund that is, after all, in essence ‘my own money’ (just as a part of the PRSI is ‘your money’ for any other Irish PRSI payer and you should feel rightfully aggrieved when denied access to ‘our money’). I grew up in a social democracy in Denmark. This means I understand that we need to redistribute some wealth to those worse off and this means less benefits to those better off — like so-called middle-class people such as I.

Of course, the main wealth distribution happens from the bottom and middle classes to the less than 1% of super-rich in the world but I will not open that tangent here as the blatant injustice of this worldwide policy is well-discussed elsewhere by better thinkers than I.

For the Irish government: design policies that provide at least a modicum of social justice for the people upon which your economy relies and create policies flexible enough to grow indigenous micro-businesses. Current practices are a very very long way off.

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